Showing posts with label sci-fi. Show all posts
Showing posts with label sci-fi. Show all posts

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Mars Watch: The Martian (2015)

Back this last summer, we read the novel The Martian by Andy Weir, and so it's kind of hard to ignore that fact as we roll into discussing the movie.

On Saturday we headed out to the Alamo to see The Martian (2015) in 3D directed by Ridley Scott and featuring a busload of name actors - headlined by Matt Damon as astronaut Mark Watney.  As one would expect, the movie has some changes from the novel, cuts a lot in order to work as a movie (and for time), and makes some extremely minor plot changes.  But, in general, like a lot of book-to-movie translations of the past decade of newer, very popular books, there's a tremendous fidelity to the source material (funny how it only took movies a century to figure out people liked for these things to match).

Just like the book, the movie is about a Mars mission in the very near future which experiences a surprise weather event which surpasses expectations in terms of severity and thus threatens the crew  NASA protocol insists that the crew scrub, get to their launch vehicle, escape to their orbiting spacecraft, and return home.  As the crew leaves their base, Biologist Mark Watney (Matt Damon) is struck by a piece of loosed debris - the antenna - and is sent hurling over a hill, his bio signs offline.  Presumed dead, the crew takes off, leaving Watney on the planet's surface.

Watney re-awakens to find himself alone, with no means of communication with Earth, and supplies in the "hab" will account for only a short amount of time on the planet.  And the lack of moisture, and living in a structure that was never intended to last forever against the Martian environment are just the start of his woes.

The loss of an astronaut is a disaster for NASA, and Watney is given a hero's funeral, but within days, a staffer at NASA notices evidence of Watney's survival on satellite photos of the base and things back at NASA and JPL go into overdrive.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Signal Watch Reads: Arthur C. Clarke's "Rendezvous with Rama" (1973, audiobook)

After listening to the audiobook of 2001: A Space Odyssey, I got a rec from one of you (I'll assume it was CanadianSimon, as he reads 3 books a week, it seems) to read Arthur C. Clarke's novel of alien contact in our solar system, Rendezvous with Rama (1973).   In my old age, this is exactly the kind of book that is bringing me back to science fiction after a long, long time of not reading the genre.  But, then again, I was always more of a Asimov-Robot-Novel kind of sci-fi reader and felt like I was really pushing the limits of fantasy with Martian Chronicles by Bradbury.

No one is going to accuse Clarke of writing character-driven science fiction, but in imagining both a world in which space travel has become commonplace to the point of interplanetary colonies are treated like nations and how we might react to a truly alien craft entering our solar system (and what it might be like as the crew tapped to take on that challenge) all feels remarkably relevant in 2015 as I am sure it did in 1973 when the book hit shelves.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

He-Man Watch: Masters of the Universe (1987)

Friday night we had our first organized Live Tweet event with The Signal Watch when we got together on Twitter and partook of Master of the Universe, the toyline/ cartoon turned into a feature film and probably Burger King glass ware.

I want to thank everyone who came out online and made the event so much fun!  That was pretty great.  I think we had a good time, had our say and I think nothing got broken we can't fix.

We'll do it again at some point, as soon as we find something on Netflix we all want to watch.  So, send your candidates our way.

Down to business:

I wasn't a He-Man kid.  The only one of the figures I spent my own allowance on was Mer-Man.  For some reason, I really liked the sculpt on ol' Mer-Man.  No idea why.

I confess, I just really identified with this guy

But I really liked underwater adventure toys as a kid, so that probably had something to do with it.  Who knows?

In the summer of '87, when the movie was released, I would have already been 12, and, as recently discussed with pals JuanD and PaulT, just past the age where you didn't really know how to play with an action figure anymore.  I might still watch the He-Man cartoon after school, but it was kind of that or stare at a wall until my mom got home from work (lord knows I wasn't going to read, do my homework, or get exercise).

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Rocky Watch: The Rocky Horror Picture Show

So, Spring, Texas, as suburb of Houston, is pretty well situated along the Bible Belt.  Having had grown up mostly in Austin, a lot of what was a bit more flexible in perspective was, shall we say, of a more singular perspective when I got picked up and moved back to Spring a couple weeks shy of my sophomore year of high school.  It was a bit of an odd transition, and I'm not sure it ever took.

1990 saw the 15th Anniversary of the release of Rocky Horror, not knowing what it really was other than that it had midnight showings, I slipped it in the stack.

Now, it's true that my freshman year I was supposed to go see the movie one night with some friends who had parents who were, I guess, willing to drive us to the midnight show and back.  Little known fact:  Austin was one of the original locations where the midnight screenings took off as early as 1976, so its likely someone a bit more plugged in may have suggested the KareBear's youngest was a bit too fragile for the film, and the whole thing fell apart.  Age 40, I've still never been to amidnight screening.

But on VHS, nobody cared what I was watching.  We'd crossed the Rated-R threshold by accident when my mom took me to see Beverly Hills Cop somewhat by accident when I was 10 and my folks were dropping us off for Rated-R movies at the Showplace 6 by the time I was in 7th grade.*

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Sci-Fi Watch: Earth vs. The Flying Saucers

I go into most movies with high hopes, good ratings or no.  I already turned off one movie this week (Godzilla:  All Monsters Attack, because it was just kind of stupid, even for a Godzilla movie), and I wasn't going to give up on another.  I hate giving up on a movie.

I had never seen Earth vs. The Flying Saucers (1956), but it's a seminal bit of sci-fi filmdom and a Ray Harryhausen FX work of note.  The problem is, I'll be blunt, the movie kind of blows.  And let this be a bit of forewarning to our friends in the Hollywood dream factory.  I'm not saying you have to make a movie with staying power - you can make your money and go on to your next project, but people might actually see your movies later, James Cameron and Avatar, and when the FX get dated, you better hope there's something else going on in front of the camera that isn't "the most realistic spinning saucer money can buy in 1956".

Saturday, September 19, 2015

80's Watch: Repo Man (1984)

I've said it before, and I'll say it again:  Repo Man (1984) may be the best time capsule for a 1980's that's been mostly lost to time.   Co-opted and reprocessed into mall fashion (eat hot death, Hot Topic), and generally been intentionally run over and run into the ground since, the subculture of disaffected, aimless youth of the 1980's has no real footprint remaining aside from the occasional nod to The Circle Jerks somewhere on a music website.  We've sort of made up the 1980's in the image of John Hughes movies and a Reagan's America that doesn't include the nuclear annihilation threat or the stagnant economy.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Sci-Fi Watch: The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)

It's been forever since I watched The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951), and I wish that weren't so.  It's easy to bag on any movie from this era of self-serious science fiction, of lantern jawed scientists and sweetly passive women who just want to help our hero by making coffee or getting out of the way.  It's dated.  Right.  Got it.*

I will say, there's really nothing better than the scene with three doctors lighting up their Lucky Strikes and pondering the incomprehensibility of our visiting alien's medicine and lifespan.  That, you can take to the bank.

Six years on after the end of World War II and the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, director Robert Wise (a director with just an astounding filmography) lensed one of the most influential films of the era, and I'm not just counting sci-fi, where the impact was absolutely mind-boggling.  Where Gojira looked back at the nuclear nightmare as having unleashed an unthinkable beast as a testament to man's folly, The Day the Earth Stood Still stood as a warning about hubris, about our place in the universe as we believed ourselves now unstoppable.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Ape Watch: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014)

I had decided that for my Labor Day, I was going to watch a Planet of the Apes movie, probably the first one from 1968.  Instead, I wound up watching the recent Apes reboot reboot sequel, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014) as it started early on HBO.  A nice coincidence.

It's no secret I'm a big fan of the Planet of the Apes movies, starting with Heston.  I didn't like the Tim Burton attempt at a reboot in the slightest, but Rise of the Planet of the Apes got me back to the theater.  

The first time I saw this movie, it kind of got ruined by a drunk and/ or disorderly woman sitting behind me.  You hate to think something like that will color how you see a movie, but, boy howdy.

In the comfort of my own home, and with only Jamie and the dogs here to act drunk and disorderly, it was a lot less distracting to get through.

The movie begins after the Simian-Flu, the modern answer to the nuclear fears of the Cold War era Apes movies, has devastated humanity over the course of a decade or more.  In the forests North of the Golden Gate Bridge, the apes that escaped in the climax of Rise of the Planet of the Apes have settled and built a society.  They hunt, live in structures, communicate via sign language and seem to carry the intelligence of man.  A handy thing as "struggling with intellect versus the baser instincts of man" is the driving force of the picture.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Sci-Fi Watch: Solaris (1972)

Back about three years ago, I listened to the audiobook of the 1961 Polish sci-fi novel, Solaris.  I'd been trying to watch this movie since my college heyday of watching movies based on whatever criteria drives your movie-watching when you're in college, but I never made it more than ten minutes in, which is bizarre given that I'd done fine with director Andrei Tarkovsky's 1979 film Stalker, saw it twice, and ripped off shots for my own film school projects.

I'd really enjoyed the book.  It felt like a missing cornerstone of what was going on with Asimov and his ilk at the same time, all stuff I love, but you can only ponder so much whether a robot has feelings.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Signal Watch Reads: The Martian, Andy Weir (audiobook)

I guess back in January, my pal Paul suggested I read The Martian (2011) by Andy Weir.  I know this because I keep a list of books I've read mixed with a list of suggestions I've taken seriously, and I do write down who made the suggestion.

When the trailer hit for the soon-to-be-in-theaters Ridley Scott directed version of The Martian, it was absolutely the sort of thing I like seeing, and I got pretty excited.  I was a big fan of Interstellar, and I even really liked Gravity, warts and all.  And as much as I like strange visitors from other worlds-type scientifiction, I also get pretty jazzed about fictional takes or speculative takes on plain old science and technology.  Mix that with the space program, like the two movies I just mentioned, and you've sold a couple of tickets to the occupants of my household.

You've got a few weeks before the movie arrives, and I highly recommend checking out the book prior to the film's release.  It's not that I think Matt Damon and Co. will do a bad job - I'm a big fan of Damon (have you seen the Bourne movies?).  It's that the book is really good and reads really fast.  I'd started the book just over a week ago, and recommended it to Jamie.  She started and finished it all today.  So, there's a context clue for you (and she also cleaned out the cupboard.  I think she bent time.).

I listened to the audiobook, which takes longer, of course, but it more than filled the commute and back I had to Arlington, Texas this week.

If you haven't seen the trailer - and I'm not spoiling anything - an astronaut is delivering his first log entry after an accident occurred during an emergency evacuation of a Mars mission.  He'd been stuck through by part of a loose antenna in a wind storm, and then blown over a hill, his suit's life signs reading nil.  Of course, he wasn't dead, but the crew was forced to leave him, and now he's stuck on Mars, with no way to contact home, the next mission coming to the planet in 4 years, and only enough supplies for 6 people for about a month.

And yet, it's the most optimistic book I've read in years.  Maybe ever.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Michael Mann Watch: The Keep (1983)

So, a few days ago, pal JuanD posted something to Facebook about German electronic musical combo, Tangerine Dream, and - knowing neither Juan nor I had any better plans for Saturday, I got us all fired up, as I'd recently seen that Amazon Instant was offering up the 1983 Michael Mann opus, The Keep.

I didn't promise the movie would actually be good.  I'd seen it before.  But if you're looking for an extended mix and meshing of the finest in early synth odyssey and forgotten tone-poem movie making, well, my friends, have I got a commercially unviable flick for you.

The first time I saw The Keep was some point circa 1988.  I'd actually heard of Tangerine Dream thanks to a sci-fi book I'd read a year or so before (The Architect of Sleep) in which the first-person narrator was a fan of the band.  I'm thinking that I saw that name come up prominently and stuck with the movie.  In an era when most of what was on the radio was by Guns N' Roses and Janet Jackson, I didn't have a lot of Tangerine Dream immediately available to me, and this was the first time I'd actually heard them.  It's also possible I also saw the name of Miami Vice and Manhunter mastermind Michael Mann listed as director, but I don't remember when I knew the movie was his work.

If you've seen The Keep, it's kind of remarkable that I gave up an evening of my life watching the movie (and loved it), but back then, I had no real preconceived notions of what a movie should be.  Around that same time I recall watching My Life as a Dog, first with English dubbing and then with subtitles, on two consecutive nights, and agreeing with my brother that it worked much better with subtitles.

Later, I'd ask other people if they'd ever seen the movie, and realized that the completely random viewing on a local UHF channel that led to me seeing the movie meant I was one of very few people who'd seen it.  In college I met people who knew it either by reputation or because of the Tangerine Dream connection, but can't recall anyone who had seen it (though I suspect JAL had watched it, and I'm just failing to recall).  The studio has more or less disavowed the movie.  It's not really been available since VHS, and even the version available on Amazon is in SD.  When I saw the movie a few years ago at The Alamo, we weren't watching the 35mm copy the studio sent around for rentals.  We were watching the only copy the studio owned, and they so didn't give a shit about it, they were sending it out for viewings.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Disney Watch: 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954)

Dang.  Just got done watching 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954), and that is one dark, morally ambiguous kids' movie.  And as much as I remembered loving that movie before, and as much as I really loved it as a kid - dang, does that movie hold up.

When I was about 6, my mom read me either the full book of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, or a kid's adaptation.  Neither of us remembers which, because I have asked.  But she did remember I was sort of bonkers for the book.

As a kid, I saw the movie several times, and I know I watched it at least once at school, because the whole cafeteria full of kids watching the movies kind of went bananas.

What's not to like?

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Sci-Fi Watch: It Came From Outer Space

I'm always surprised by how many 1950's sci-fi movies I haven't seen.  Especially the bigger budget productions.  I certainly have no aversion to 1950's sci-fi.  I love the messaging, the aesthetics, the fact you could have a hero who was a younger person smoking a pipe and knitting their eyebrows a lot.

I'd heard of It Came From Outer Space (1953) at some point, and it's likely it makes an appearance in a 1970's or 1980's movie as a "late show re-run" movie our hero is watching, and which is a sly nod to what's coming later in the movie you're currently watching, but the name is so terribly generic for a sci-fi'er of the 1950's, I think it just bypassed me up until now.  It also doesn't star anyone I particularly care about (sorry to my cross-over readership of die-hard Russell Johnson fans).

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Sci-Fi Watch: Logan's Run (1976)

I watched Logan's Run one other time, circa 1999, but a bottle of something with an angry animal printed on the label was consumed then and stood between me and any firm memories of the movie.  Except for Carousel.  And, if I'm being honest, Jenny Agutter.

In the future, we'll all live in airports

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Sci-Fi Watch: The Thing From Another World (1951)

I'm a big fan of the 1982 John Carpenter sci-fi horror flick, The Thing, but I'd never seen Howard Hawks produced The Thing From Another World (1951) - the movie upon which the Carpenter film was based.

I recorded it off TCM at some point and finally got around to watching it, which was well timed as I'd been having a twitter-convo with some of y'all about whether remakes and sequels were really out of control.*

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Signal Re-Watch: Mad Max - Fury Road

Man that is one hell of a movie.

I can't tell you how pleased I was to watch this movie a second time and see things I hadn't seen before.  Dialog, character beats, things like that.  Always the mark of a good movie.

There's not all that much to mention other than that on a second go-round I got to enjoy more of what was going on in the movie and not just desperately hang on with both hands and try to keep up.  But everything you've been reading about the old-school expertise filmmaking in a 2015-era film is right, right down to the use of "fade to black" as transitions between acts.  And, really, no mainstream movie has done more to show rather than tell in years.

And you can't really say enough about George Miller's sense of world building.  If anything fell apart in the 1980's cheap post-apocalyptic knock-offs, it was pretty much every single detail, but it started at the lack of thought put into the world - what was it like living in a world where the grid had fallen apart?  Everything is built with motivation in mind, and not all of that motivation says much good about humanity.  But it drives everything from vehicle design to the mythologies and modes of survival.  It's what some of the best movies do on screen, sci-fi or otherwise, and Miller has been living in this world a long, long time.

Anyway, likely I'll watch this one again and again for some time to come.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Carpenter Watch: They Live (1988)

I saw this movie twice in the theater.  Apparently seeing cult John Carpenter movies in the theater without knowing they were John Carpenter movies at the time is one of my claims to fame.

I wasn't a huge pro-wrestling fan growing up or at any other point afterward, but it's not like I didn't know who Roddy Piper was, and seeing he was in a movie with lots of guns and some over the top dialog was, shall we say, a big sell when I was 13.  And then, what do you know?  The movie pushed a lot of my buttons at the time, and so I saw it twice.

It hasn't been in high rotation for me since.  It doesn't quite bear repeat viewings in the manner of many of my other favorite Carpenter movies, but it had been well over a decade since I'd seen the movie, and the El Rey network LOVES a good John Carpenter movie, and so I set the 'ol DVR.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

RoboCop Watch: RoboCop

Sometimes between viewings of RoboCop (1987) I think to myself, "Self, maybe you talk too much about RoboCop.  Maybe you should stop pestering people with RoboCop and maybe take a step back and realize that maybe all RoboCop really is is a mid-80's studio sci-fi action flick that may be pretty good, but it's not really as good as you tend to think."

And then I watch RoboCop again, and I say to myself, "Self, that was stupid and you should stop questioning RoboCop.  That movie is the absolute best."

Also, it completely and totally accurately predicted the future.  So if you ever need to know what I think the world looks like through my beady little eyes...  RoboCop.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Signal Watch Reads: Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (audiobook - read by Stephen Fry)

First of all, don't panic.

I'll start by saying - I enjoyed this reading experience, and you can all go about your business, secure in the knowledge that I will not be disrupting your very fond memories of what is now considered a modern classic.

Like all of you, I read the book when I was in middle school, and I believe I got through three of the four books before I forgot to buy the fourth, and here we are, 27 years later.  Oddly, I do think I read this one more than once, but I couldn't reconstruct the plot in my head at all.  Just details.  42.  Something about a sperm whale.  Mice.  Zaphod.  Laying in front of bulldozers.  Babel fish.  Earth as a computer.  Improbability.

But, again... no idea what the book actually did.